Boundaries

A week or so ago I got collared by the Irish guy who lives a few doors down. He wanted to talk to me about some boundary dispute between my neighbour and the neighbours-next-door-to-her – some quite boring stuff about a missing fence and whose responsibility it is. We were standing in my front yard chatting when he ran off, apparently having spotted someone trying to nick something out of his own garden. I wasn't banking on him coming back and ringing my doorbell for a rant about "fucking Gyppos" while I stood in my doorway trying to work out how to get him to go away.

My neighbour has since told me that he's trying to stir up trouble about this fence, despite it being nothing to do with him or any fences or gardens he may have (the guys two doors down may be gay; given the size of the flat I doubt they're housemates. It makes me wonder if this man adds "fucking queers" to his dislike of "fucking Gyppos"), and he got quite nasty with my neighbour when she said she didn't want to make a big thing of it. (He's also borrowed money off her – a pensioner – and not repaid it.) And then on Sunday I was in Lewisham when he stopped me on the street.

He stands too close when he's talking to you; if you move away he follows you and maintains the distance. He immediately took out two photos that looked like shop-bought prints, one of a motorbike and one of a vintage car. He started telling me how someone had taken the bike from behind his house and left it, totally smashed to pieces, in front of a lock-up he has in Lewisham. The same lock-up that someone had broken into and smashed up the car. (This is presumably the same lock-up he has already told me had a load of musical equipment taken from it. This must be the least secure garage in the world).

Are you going to the police? I said. Yes, he said. Ah well, no, maybe not. He doesn't like the police. But he has no enemies, no enemies at all, even though people who don't have enemies tend to have no reason to ever say they don't have enemies, and those same people tend not to threaten "fucking Gyppos" with scaffolding poles in their gardens. But he was going to the police now, after all, to see if they'd take turns with him that night watching the garage in case whoever it was came back. Because Lewisham police have the time to do that. All the while, leaning inwards from about 18 inches away.

I do not want to be this man's confidante. I do not want to be drawn into his local vendettas or his fantasy burglaries. I do not want him turning up on my doorstep. But neither do I want him threatening me with a scaffolding pole. I am going to adopt an attitude of detached firmness, and always be busy going somewhere or doing something else whenever I see him again.

South-east London is chattier than the rest of the city (I nipped out for drain cleaner on Saturday and ended up talking cookery books for ten minutes with the shopkeeper) and this is the first incident in nearly three years of living here that's made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. I'd hate this man and his boundary issues to mess up my sense of local cameraderie.

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